Fewer US troops in Africa; Senators rebuke Yemen policy; Troops at the border through Xmas; US gun deaths hit record high; and a bit more.

The U.S. Senate invoked the War Powers Act for the first time ever on Thursday, the Washington Post’s Pentagon reporter Missy Ryan noted early, calling it a “big, symbolic blow to U.S.-Saudi relations.”

At the heart of the matter: the Trump administration’s response to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams reports.

Background: After a closed-door briefing from CIA Director Gina Haspel on the Khashoggi affair on Wednesday, the Democratic leaders of the House Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees both vowed to dig into the matter more, Williams writes. And in a press conference Wednesday urging support for a separate piece of legislation levying sanctions on those connected to the murder, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters, “I am never going to let this go until things change in Saudi Arabia.”

Big picture take: For now, the Senate’s 56-41 vote is largely symbolic, Williams reports. Why? “The Trump administration has defended its support of the Saudi coalition and has said the president will veto any congressional bid to curtail it.” Indeed, the White House has already hinted at how it might work around a successful passage of the resolution in the next Congress.

Perhaps more than anything, “This has raised the awareness and I think made it more difficult for the Trump administration to continue it’s full-throated support for the war in Yemen,” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

Two cents from Defense One’s Kevin Baron: “Of all the relatively small conflicts to finally invoke the War Powers Act for… 17 years into the US invasion and overthrow of the government in Afghanistan, 15 years after the US invaded, overthrew, and occupied Iraq… Yemen.”

For more on how lawmakers actually view Thursday’s use of the War Powers Act, read the rest of Williams’ report, here.

Coming later today: An extended discussion on the $750 billion military with Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber sat down with Harrison and you can read all about it in Weisgerber’s Thursday edition of the Global Business Brief. Or stick around and catch it on your mobile device by subscribing to Defense One Radio.

Also in this week’s episode:

  • We’ll mark the birthday of a very special organization that turned 382 years old this week. Angry Staff Officer joined us to celebrate with some history, an interesting new project he’s working on for NCOs, and why he likes Star Wars movies so much.
  • And we’ll end with a short chat on the U.S. Air Force’s Kessel Run program with former enlisted man and current civilian supercoder Adam Furtado.

Find Defense One Radio on Google Play, iTunes, or Overcast, or wherever you listen to podcasts.


From Defense One

New Armed Services Chair Says He Will Fund Military, Not Drive Foreign Policy ‘Like McCain Did’ // Katie Bo Williams, Defense One: ‘My job is to make sure we have the resources…I try not to get into debates,’ Sen. Inhofe says in an exclusive interview.

Trump’s New Africa Plan: Fewer US Troops and Aid, More Investment and Deals // Katie Bo Williams, Defense One: To compete with China in Africa, the White House aims to encourage U.S. investment but will continue a troop drawdown and plans a harsh re-evaluation of foreign assistance.

Senate Votes to Curtail Yemen Involvement in Rebuke of Trump // Katie Bo Williams, Defense One: The 56-41 vote is largely symbolic — for now — but it shows that congressional outrage with Riyadh is unlikely to cool.

Maria Butina’s Guilty Plea Could Illuminate Russian Ploy to Shape 2016 Election // Natasha Bertrand: The onetime graduate student admits to being a foreign agent who sought to establish back channels to Republicans through the NRA.

The Government’s Bioterror-Response Website May Be Leaking Sensitive Data // Patrick Tucker: DHS inspectors and a whistleblower say the site, which would be used to coordinate federal responses to a bioterror attack, isn’t secure.

Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: 2020 defense spending outlook: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; Don’t forget the budget caps; F-35 combat tests start; and more…

Pentagon to Take Over All Security Clearances in Nine Months, Officials Say // Aaron Boyd, Nextgov: The move will mean absorbing the National Background Investigations Bureau and its 2,000 employees.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson. Thanks for reading! And if you find this stuff useful, consider sharing it with somebody you think might find it useful, too. On this day in 1799, George Washington passed away at his estate in Mount Vernon, Virginia.


Meet the newish Senate Arms Services Committee chair. Well, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla, isn’t exactly new; he has three decades of service on the HASC and SASC. But in an exclusive interview with D1’s Williams, the new SASC chair says he’s going to take the committee in a new direction from its last chief, the late Sen. John McCain. Read on, here.

Closure of a sort in Strasbourg. The French gunman who attacked a market killing 3 and wounding 13 others this week was shot and killed by police on Thursday.
How it happened: “French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said police recognized a man who looked like Chekatt walking on the street in Strasbourg’s Neudorf district on Thursday night and approached him. He opened fire on officers when they tried to question him,” CNN reports.
Nationwide manhunt. “The hunt prompted a curfew in the eastern French city near the German border and forced the country to raise its national security threat level to its highest status: ‘emergency terror attack.’” The Paris prosecutor’s office says five people who could be linked to the attacker are in custody so far. Read on, here or at the NYTs, here.
And back stateside, we learned on Thursday that “gun deaths in America have reached a record high,” CNN reported off new data released by the CDC (find that data here).

Trump administration’s new Africa strategy: National Security Adviser John Bolton on Thursday rolled out a plan “that appeared to leave unchanged U.S. counterterrorism activities on the continent while emphasizing increased economic development as the primary means to counter Russian and Chinese influence there.” D1’s Williams reports, here.

Home for Christmas, border security edition. Here’s your U.S.-Mexico border deployment update: 1,700 active-duty troops will be sent home in time for Christmas, Lucas Tomlinson reported Thursday from the Pentagon. “The first large redeployment of approximately 750 service members from Texas and Arizona occurred yesterday,” U.S. officials said Thursday. Another 4,200 troops will remain while 220 additional reinforcements will be deployed to Arizona.  
For your eyes only: See how much of the border wall is in place already in this interactive from The New York Times graphics team.
Related: A 7-year-old migrant girl died of apparent dehydration and shock while in U.S. custody near Lordsburg, New Mexico, last week, the Washington Post reported Thursday. The Associated Press reports today that an autopsy is expected soon, though the results won’t likely be made public for a few weeks.
Reminder, ICYMI: Nearly 15,000 immigrant children are now in U.S. custody — “putting shelters near capacity,” NPR reported Thursday morning.

As far as the whole effort to build Trump’s border wall, U.S. Northern Command’s press shop wrote a Twitter thread Thursday listing the progress their troops have made since deploying just before the midterm elections.
Some stats from that:

  • 70 miles of wire obstacles have been installed using more than 480 miles of single strand concertina wire;
  • Movable barriers have been added at 22 Ports of Entry across California, Arizona and Texas;  
  • Military Police units conducted more than 10,000 man-hours of unit training & combined rehearsals with their CBP counterparts at ports of entry in the three states listed above;
  • Military rotary wing aviators flew more than 740 hours in support of CBP.

And as for the current troop laydown, there are now “approximately 4,200 personnel supporting CBP along the Southwest border,” with 1,700 in Texas, 1,000 in Arizona, and 1,500 in the California corridor. More at NORAD/NORTHCOM’s Twitter feed, here.

As for the effort to build Trump’s desired Space Force, Defense News reported Thursday a decision has been made about whether it will be its own department or fall under the Air Force — but officials won’t tell Defense News or other outlets (yet) what was decided.
Said Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan: “We’re now down to one option. I’m really not in a position to disclose what that one option is, but I can tell you that the legislative proposal itself probably tomorrow will start to go through the [Pentagon] for coordination.” Tiny bit more, here.  

Think the U.S. should create a Department of Cybersecurity? Think again, according to the latest addition of “Bad Ideas in National Security” from the folks at the Center for Strategic International Studies. Suzanne Spaulding of CSIS and Third Way’s Mieke Eoyang explain why this new department could easily have a lot of unintended consequences, here.

Apropos of nothing: Here’s a short video from Vice News about a DIY rocketeer from Nashville who builds replicas of SpaceX’s novel self-landing rockets.

And finally this week: Revisit the terrifying 35-year-old TV movie that was basically a nuclear weapons awareness PSA called “The Day After.” A new multimedia analysis from Dawn Stover for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists goes the distance in assessing not just the film’s importance and reception at the time, but also many of the perhaps less-well-known facets of American life in 1983. For example, an opinion poll conducted that year “found that about half of Americans thought they would die in a nuclear war.”
There’s really a lot to dig into in this feature, so grab some eggnog or hot cocoa this weekend and revisit “The Day After,” here.  

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